Two weeks ago, drinks giant PepsiCo was sued by New York state for endangering the environment, the water supply and public health after many of its single-use plastic bottles were found polluting the Buffalo River.
In the same month, the UN committee tasked with developing an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution held its third round of negotiations in Nairobi, Kenya. During the contentious negotiation, a coalition of governments led by Rwanda and Norway favoured taking a holistic approach that addresses the full life cycle of plastic, including its production, design and disposal. But some oil-producing nations advocated focusing on waste management.
It should be clear by now that if the plastic production rate remains unchanged, merely relying on waste management won’t be enough to resolve the crisis.
Hong Kong should take note of these developments as it prepares to introduce a producer responsibility scheme for plastic beverage containers, aimed at addressing the pollution caused by the over 11 million single-use beverage containers discarded daily in the city.
The Environmental Protection Department is expected to submit a draft bill to the Legislative Council by early next year.
The recycling rate for single-use beverage containers in Hong Kong remains shamefully low (the city’s overall plastic recovery rate was only 5.7 per cent in 2021), compared to the rates of 60 to 90 per cent in other economies, as disclosed in the Legco background paper published last month.
Our government officials often learn good practices from overseas for better policy formulation. Unfortunately, the key aspects of the scheme proposed in the public consultation document led me to believe this has not been the case here.
For instance, the Environmental Protection Department has proposed a minimum rebate of 10 Hong Kong cents per container, which is ridiculously low. Fearmongers warned that a higher rebate would lead to local companies importing empty containers to claim the rebate. But these fears have no basis.
Many European countries have set a higher rebate for their deposit-and-return system to drive up recovery rates. Hong Kong should study how these economies succeeded in preventing abuse of the system.
In Slovakia, a deposit-and-return system launched in January 2022 managed to achieve a 70 per cent recovery rate for all deposit containers in the first 10 months. This example illustrates that what some consider infeasible is in fact achievable.
Should our legislators approve an ineffective producer responsibility scheme, they would be doing a disservice to the environment and public health.
An SCMP article contributed by Mr Edwin Lau,
Founder & Executive Director of The Green Earth